By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
On Saturday, Arlington Park will play host to seven stakes races worth a combined total of $2,865,000. The day’s racing will be highlighted by a quartet of major stakes races, led by the historic $1,000,000 Arlington Million (gr. I). Simply from a sporting perspective, the races are going to be fantastic, but for handicappers, the races will take on additional intrigue thanks to a $200,000 guaranteed pick four linking the biggest races. With so many wide-open in the lineup, it’s bound to pay nicely—if you can hit it. So let’s take a look at each race, and try to formulate a strategy!
American St. Leger Stakes
Any analysis of this race must begin with Dandino, the 3-1 morning line favorite and the reigning champion of this race. While his proven affinity for Arlington and long-distance races must be considered, it’s important to note that Dandino was in very good form prior to his St. Leger win last year, as he entered the race off two runner-up efforts at the group II level in England, one of which was the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. This year, Dandino has finished sixth in both of his outings, and does not appear to be at the same level of competitive readiness as he was last year. Thus, I’ll be taking a stand against him with Eye of the Storm, a group III winner from the barn of Aidan O’Brien. Eye of the Storm has won at distances as long as two miles, and is accustomed to carrying much more weight (as much as 138 pounds) than the 121 he will be asked to carry on Saturday.
I’ll also give a close look to Suntracer, runner-up in this race last year and most recently a sharp third in the Stars and Stripes Handicap (gr. III) here at Arlington.
Secretariat Stakes (gr. I)Aidan O’Brien holds a strong hand in this race as well, being the conditioner of both the 8-5 morning line favorite Adelaide and the 20-1 shot Belisarius. Adelaide has already made one trip to the U.S., finishing second by just a neck in the Belmont Derby (gr. I) on July 5th. A repeat of that performance would make him difficult to beat on Saturday, but I believe that Tourist is up to the task. The Bill Mott-trained colt is unbeaten in three starts on turf, and possesses excellent tactical speed that should allow him to seize command from the start and dare his rivals to catch him. Granted, he’ll be stretching out three-sixteenths of a mile farther than he has ever run before, and that is a legitimate concern. But in his last two starts, he has run the final half-mile in :46.30 and :45.35 seconds, suggesting that the stretch-out in distance is well within his capabilities.
If you want a longshot, General Jack (12-1) might be worth a look. He’s won his last two starts on turf, including a stakes race, with strong final quarter-mile times. And even Belisarius could be considered, for he has demonstrated good recent form at 11 and 12 furlongs in England, albeit against lesser company.
Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I)
I have been waiting all year for Stephanie’s Kitten to return to form, which she finally did last time out when beaten a neck by Somali Lemonade in the Diana Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. Given that Stephanie’s Kitten closed nearly four lengths into an :11.45-second final furlong—an incredible feat!—she must be used in the pick four, but as the morning line favorite at 7-2, her odds are a bit unappealing in this very deep field.
Unfortunately, the odds on her expected challengers are unappealing as well. Alterite, third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. I) last November, made her seasonal debut in the Diana and was beaten just three lengths despite a less-than-ideal pace-pressing trip. She figures to be considerably sharper today, but is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line. The European invader Just the Judge won the Irish 1,000 Guineas (Ire-I) last May, but has lost every one of her six starts since then. A third-place finish last time out in the Pretty Polly Stakes (Ire-I) suggests that she is returning to form, but she’s a relatively low 6-1 on the morning line.
For those that would like to try and land a large price in a wide-open race, I’m Already Sexy (20-1) should be considered. She won the Modesty Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington last time out, and—perhaps more importantly—she’s unbeaten in four starts over the Arlington turf course. Yes, she would need to step up to defeat a field of this caliber, but 20-1 is more than fair value on this talented filly.
One horse I plan to play against is Somali Lemonade. True, she has won three of her last four starts on the turf, including the Diana, but she may find it difficult to get to her customary position on the lead while starting from post eleven. Furthermore, the ten-furlong distance may prove a bit far for her.
Arlington Million (gr. I)
2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) winner Magician is the 7-5 morning line favorite, and could potentially go off at even lower than that. The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt has kept good company all year, and while he only has a group III victory on his 2014 record, he has placed in a pair of top-notch group I races and should relish the firm turf he will likely find at Arlington.
For those playing the pick four, the talent of Magician presents an interesting quandary—should he be a single? If one decides to single him, that makes plenty of sense—it leaves you with more opportunity to spread in the earlier races. Furthermore, if you don’t single him, then who else do you include on your ticket? Prix d’Harcourt (Fr-II) winner Smoking Sun seems as good as any, and Real Solution won this race last year via disqualification. Side Glance has won and placed in group stakes races across the globe, including last year’s Arlington Million. Up With the Birds just romped in the Nijinsky Stakes (Can-II) at Woodbine. Finnegans Wake won the Arlington Handicap (gr. III) here at Arlington last time out. Hardest Core has compiled a terrific record on the turf against lesser company.
But at the same time, Magician is coming off one of the worst races of his career last time out, having finished sixth by fourteen lengths in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot. That performance introduces just enough question marks about his current form to make trying to beat him a tempting possibility.
So my strategy would be to construct a pair of pick four tickets, one singling Magician while going wide in the other races, and the other going deep in the Million and going smaller earlier in the sequence. The two tickets would look something like this:
Eye of the Storm/Suntracer
Stephanie’s Kitten/Alterite/Just the Judge/I’m Already Sexy
Eye of the Storm
Stephanie’s Kitten/Alterite/Just the Judge
Smoking Sun/Real Solution/Side Glance
Who do you like this weekend?